Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Lazy Sunday Arms Debate

Now that the hoopla surrounding the Thanksgiving Day Parade (for the DiaperTribe, who loves him some Kermit) and Thanksgiving dinner (for me, who loves me some turkey and mashed) has died down, let’s cast our gaze back to the corner of Carnegie and Ontario where things have remained relatively quiet. While things figure to remain quiet most of the off-season (as I’m not sure if you remember the way that the roster was already disassembled around mid-summer this past year with an eye past the 2010 season), it is Sunday and it’s time to let loose on a Lazy One before I have to pull the Christmas decorations out of the attic. And with that, we’re off…

First things first, as it seems as if the dream to bring a slick-fielding, albeit aging, middle infielder back to the North Coast has died, as John McDonald has re-signed with the Blue Jays for a whopping (at least for Johnny Mac, given his skill set) 2-year, $3M deal.
What do you mean, that’s not who you were thinking of when I mentioned a “slick-fielding, albeit aging, middle infielder” who recently signed with an AL team?

Oh, that other guy?
The one whose agent told the Indians that “the White Sox were a higher priority on his list” when they expressed interest in bringing him back?

That one who, with that message from his agent, made his “priorities” quite clear in terms of how he wanted to land with a “high-profile” club…and with those “priorities” obviously not including a return trip to Cleveland unless he was unwanted by a divisional rival, likely among others?

As deep as the hope runs for a return to the glory of the 1990’s by the populace of the North Coast, it would certainly seem that the nostalgic feeling does not extend to Little O for one last swan song in Cleveland, at least at the expense of his personal goals. For those fans still intent on signing a middle infielder with ties to the past, maybe the Indians can still sign Alex Cora…whose 2009 numbers were comparable to those of Vizquel.

Moving on from the past (please?) and in terms of creating some new memories (although memories that may not come for a few years yet), yet another Top 10 prospect list comes flying at us, this time from The Hardball Times, with Carlos Santana (not surprisingly) at the top of the list and THT touting him as “one of the top 10 prospects in all of baseball”…which is not too bad for half of a season of ol’ Lacey Cake.

Other nuggets of insight that emerge from the list are the ideas that The Chiz has “a good chance to be an above average major league third baseman. An All-Star, though, may be stretching it” and that “it may take some time for (Mike) Brantley to produce like a lead-off hitter at the major league level, though, as I think he is destined for an up and down early career. Stay patient”. THT is high on some of the power arms the Indians got this past year, although interestingly Jason Knapp (#4) and Alex White (#5) are listed…but Nick Hagadone is not.

On the pitching end, THT also diverts a bit from some of the lists that have already come out, most notably Kevin Goldstein’s recent list at B-Pro, in that THT is extremely high on Hector Rondon describing him as such:
Rondon's electric four-pitch arsenal is the envy of minor league baseball, but his tendency to lose focus and leave pitches up and over the plate will need to be remedied if he is going to succeed against major league hitting. His questionable endurance could be to blame in late innings. He is very good, but not a perfect prospect.

The feelings on Rondon intrigue me not only in terms of Rondon as a pitching prospect, but how his promise without fruition at the MLB level to date (while certainly not his fault) is a great indicator of what the 2010 Indians’ pitching staff is going to look like. As a bit of an introduction to that, take a look at these two compilations (that I think I’ve already posted but want to do so again in light of THT’s high opinion of Rondon) in recent years by highly-thought-of pitching prospects:
Hector Rondon – 2009 – AA/AAA – 146 1/3 IP over 27 games
3.38 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 4.72 K/BB, 0.7 HR/9

Dave Huff – 2008 – AA/AAA - 146 1/3 IP over 27 games
2.52 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 4.93 K/BB, 0.8 HR/9

Seriously, the game and inning total is identical for the two…

Of course, there is the obvious age discrepancy as Rondon was 21 when he put up that line this past year while Huff was 23, but Rondon had thrown 333 2/3 innings over the previous 3 years in the Indians’ organization while Huff had notched only 67 1/3 innings in his previous 2 years after being a 1st Round Pick out of UCLA. The entrance of the organization for each player (Rondon as an International FA, Huff as a Draft Pick coming out of college) plays a role in the age difference, but if those two arms that put up those two seasons at the upper levels of the Minors are in the Indians’ organization, shouldn’t the focus be on parlaying the success of the two seasons shown above to MLB success above all other priorities in an attempt to contend in 2011?

Obviously, Huff’s 2009 was uneven and his bizarre comments that “strikeouts are boring” are more than a little unsettling (particularly when you consider that he WAS able to rack up K’s in the Minors) as missing bats is certainly preferable to relying on defense and luck. But the idea that these two players likely fit into the 2011 rotation is where I’m going with this, as where they fit in that rotation remains to be seen and determining where they fit are the EXACT answers that the Indians need to find as the determine how the 2010 MLB innings are going to be doled out, particularly in light of the growing belief that the Indians need to add another arm to the rotational mix.

Maybe Huff is simply a middle-to-back-end-of-the-rotation starter and nothing more (just like Laffey and even Sowers), but as a quick reminder, those middle-to-back-end-of-the-rotation starters (particularly when coming cheap and under club control) is precisely what this Indians team needs to find to fill out their rotation and to do so within a budget. If the stretch runs of 2005 and 2007 provided us any lessons, it was that strong starting pitching makes winning much easier, and that the importance of the starters in the middle to back end of the rotation were just as important as those cogs at the top. Once the playoffs begin, that becomes another story, where dominant top-end starters are the desired commodity, but the Indians won the 2007 title because of the contributions of Westbrook (once he was healthy), Byrd, and Laffey (don’t forget that the Indians got this from their 5th starter down the stretch…who was not named CP Lee), just as much as the dominance that came from CC and Fausto at the top of the rotation.

Don’t get me wrong, top-of-the-rotation arms make winning much easier for an organization (though apparently not all that easy if you look at what the Tribe did with CC and Lee in their rotations during the first halves of the past two years), but the depth of arms that seems to be on the cusp of contributing is vital to the long-term prospects of the team, even if it is just as starters #3 to #7. If one of the young arms (like a Rondon or a Huff or even a Masterson) develops into an ace or even a #2, that’s marvelous; but these young players (Huff, Laffey, Masterson, Sowers, Carrasco, Rondon, etc.) should be getting every inning available in 2010 that doesn’t go to hopefully establishing some mid-July trade value for Jake Westbrook or rescuing Fausto Carmona from the “Pool of Regression” that has enveloped him since Game 6 of the 2007 ALCS.

Maybe the Indians are thinking of shuttling these guys back and forth between Columbus and Cleveland (as only Carmona and Sowers are out of options), but the point of finding a guy to take innings away from an arm that legitimately figures into plans beyond 2010 accomplishes what exactly?

Essentially, this organization doesn’t need middle-to-back-end-of-the-rotation options to appear from the FA market or via trades this off-season as they look to be flush with internal options to play those roles. Instead they need to find that front-end stud (or studs) that anchors the staff and gives the team a chance to win every five days, and that answer isn’t going to come on the FA market in this economic structure. Where those arms are eventually going to emerge from within the organization is frankly a more pertinent matter (even for today) than how the team is going to divvy up innings for 2010.

That development of a legitimate frontline starter is another topic for another day and maybe two of the arms they added (Hagadone and Knapp) represent “a pair of pitchers who throw 100 mph; extremely projectable arms” as Ross Atkins said, but Hagadone and Knapp have thrown a combined ZERO innings in AA or above, so we’re not exactly looking at “knocking at the doorstep” aces here, and simply potential aces at that as more can go wrong than can go right between Kinston and Cleveland than even Atom Miller (among others) would like to admit.

It’s probably pie-in-the-sky thinking, but wouldn’t it make much more sense to wait to spend any available money on a starter next off-season when the pickings are far from slim and when questions have been answered about the existing internal options in 2010? Wouldn’t the idea that Westbrook and Wood (please, can we not let that option vest) being off of the books help in even entertaining the idea that an arm from the stacked 2011 FA class of starting pitchers makes much more sense? By no means is this putting forth the idea that Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson, Josh Johnson, Wandy Rodriguez, or Zach Duke would be coming to the North Coast this time next year, but wouldn’t the idea of NOT spending unnecessarily on an arm this off-season and “spending when the time was right” hold much more water?

Obviously, the eventual need for a frontline starter is there (though the Twins won the 2009 AL Central with one starter with an ERA+ over 100) and that need is still painfully obvious in the organization; but where does the idea that an arm needs to be added this off-season come from, particularly given the landscape of the FA market for starters?

On that FA market for rotational options, Eric Seidman at Baseball Prospectus has a terrific primer on the Free Agent starter pool as the intro alone can attest:
If this year's free-agent crop of starting pitchers were a graduating high school class, their prom theme would have to be “Risk and Reward.” Having passed the November 20th commencement ceremony, after which members of the class can be hired by prospective employers, one market aspect has become increasingly clear. Aside from valedictorian John Lackey, the student body consists of one of two types: either the troublemaker with the potential to achieve, or the consistent yet unnoticed pupil whose lack of flakiness tends to overrate his attributes in relation to the former archetype. Essentially, teams are going to dole out lucrative contracts to mid-pack starters, else they decide to diversify their risk amongst those voted “most likely to spend time on the disabled list,” signing a couple to incentive-laden contracts in the hopes that at least one will pan out and reach his potential.

The piece is pay content, but the “Risk and Reward” idea is what should immediately give you the idea that this isn’t the avenue for the Indians to explore (this off-season at least) as it divides some of the available arms in the FA starting pool into very definitive classes. From Joel Piniero to Rich Harden to Doug Davis to Jon Garland to Jarrod Washburn, all of the pitchers below Lackey come with their warts (and even Lackey isn’t wart-free), and none jumps out as fitting the description that Acta used in his desire for another veteran starter which was “You have to bring the right guy. We're not bringing a veteran guy just to bring him…We're going to be very careful that we're not going to block the progress of these young guys.”

Because most of these options would look like a “guy” to me, not “the right guy”…and even if that “right guy” was out there, what is the cost associated with bringing that “right guy” into the fold?

For that, we go to the more definitive piece from Baseball Prospectus, this time from Joe Sheehan, who takes a stab at some of the dollars that will be doled out to the arms, guessing that a guy like Doug Davis gets 2 years and $16M and that Jarrod Washburn gets 3 years and $30M.

That would be the same Doug Davis that has posted a cumulative ERA+ of 110 over the past three years in Arizona, with a cumulative WHIP of 1.54 and a K/BB of 1.53 in those three years in the desert…2 years, $16M for a mediocre innings-eater. And the same Jarrod Washburn that had an ERA+ of 96 with a K/BB of 1.77 in his first three years in Seattle and who posted a 7.33 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP in the 8 starts for Detroit after he was traded to the Motor City. So that’s a guess of 3 years and $30M for Washburn because he had a good 20 starts to start the 2009 season in his contract year in the Emerald City.

If you think that the Indians would spend that type of money, you weren’t paying attention when the Indians traded Cliff Lee and his $9M option for 2010 in the middle of this season because they didn’t think that the team, as presently constructed, would compete WITH CLIFF LEE at the top of the rotation. Thus, if you think that signing one of these lesser lights for comparable money as a downgrade from CP Lee at the top of the rotation and that it would be money well-spent, well…

If you really want a veteran presence on the rotation, pray for Jake Westbrook’s health during this holiday season, because if you’re looking for someone to sit near the top of the rotation and give 200+ innings and put up an ERA of 4.00 or thereabouts, on the open FA market that’s going to cost you about what Cliff Lee’s going to cost the Phillies in 2010. Debate away as to whether Lee should have been moved, but the Indians moved Lee and essentially punted on 2010 when they did so, acknowledging that the team (again, WITH LEE) was no shoo-in to compete in 2010 because of their pitching, even in the weak AL Central.

If Westbrook is nowhere near ready by the start of Spring Training (and he made his first start in Puerto Rico last night, giving up 3 hits and 1 walk with 1 earned run and no strikeouts in 1 2/3 innings for Ponce), perhaps at that point the consideration is made to add an arm; but again…who and at what cost?

Every team needs starting pitching and that’s why if you’re going off of Matthew Pouliat’s “predictions” what starting pitchers are going to get in the open market, you’re looking at pitchers like Carl Pavano and Jon Garland receiving contracts in the $7M per year range. That would be $2M less than the Indians were on the hook for in the Lee option, so explain to me how the Indians are going to upgrade their starting pitching with a legitimate veteran option that isn’t going to cost an amount that isn’t that far off from what they owed Lee for 2010.

Sure, there are guys that could be reclamation project options like Kelvim Escobar, Noah Lowry, and their ilk, but if the Indians are signing one of those guys, it’s on a one-year, incentive-laden deal in which the best case scenario is for a replay of Carl Pavano’s 2009, where you can flip that production into a semi-useful Minor-League player. That semi-useful player that the Indians netted for Pavano (goes by the name of Yohan Pino) may not be long for the organization as he was left exposed for the Rule 5 Draft, a topic that Crawfish Boxes (a Houston Astros’ blog) delves into, specifically touching on Pino and a couple of other Indian arms that may be attractive to other clubs.

Are you starting to see how this thing isn’t being built for 2010?
How the middle-to-back-end-of-the-rotation options are supposed to use 2009 to separate themselves from each other, so when 2011 arrives (and contention is closer to being a reality) the Indians can have a better idea of what they have in Masterson, Huff, Laffey, Rondon, Sowers, Carrasco, and the like so they can make their moves NEXT off-season?

Adding an “inning-eater” or a pitcher to take innings away from being able to make those educated evaluations on all of the aforementioned names simply lengthens the timeframe as to when those arms are ready to contribute at a legitimate MLB level. For some of them, maybe that time to “contribute at a legitimate MLB level” is never, but wouldn’t 2010 be a pretty good year to find out, given that their internal, legitimate front-of-the-rotation options figure to be at least a year away from even knocking on the door?

Perhaps everything goes right for the team and the young starting pitching steps in and contributes immediately to a suddenly winning ballclub; but the organization certainly didn’t think that the pieces were in place WITH Lee and Victor added to the current mix of players to contend in 2010. Without question, the Indians need to add frontline pitching at or near the MLB level to their organizational mix, that time is just not now…and that arm is just not a veteran inning-eater who prevents the answers that need to be clear when 2010 is over.

Moving on from the pitchers for 2010, the only marginally relevant news coming from the Indians is the announcement that Torey Lovullo will leave the organization to become the Red Sox AAA manager in Pawtucket for the 2010 season. Lovullo described his feelings on the situation thusly:
It was a great relationship and it will continue to be. There’s no bitterness, no resentment. There is a little disappointment. We’re all competitive, we all wanted the position…I’ll miss the staff members I got to know daily in spring training. I’ll miss my relationship with the players that I’ve watched grow up over the last three to seven years. It’s time to open my eyes to a new direction…It’s unfortunate I didn’t get a couple of opportunities that presented themselves with the Indians. Now I’ve got a different opportunity with a great organization in the Boston Red Sox.

The move was not a surprise at all, particularly in the wake of Steve Smith being named the Third Base Coach and Infield Coach, which is where Lovullo’s natural fit on the 2010 staff looked to be, if there was one. You would have to imagine that Lovullo felt, after being passed over for the managerial position (not that he was ever a serious contender) AND as a coach on the staff that he could read the tea leaves telling him that the organization was going to likely ask him to return to manage their AAA affiliate for the fifth year. With an organization that saw a significant coaching shake-up and with him remaining in the same upper-level-of-the-minors managerial job, a change was obviously in his best interests unless he REALLY enjoyed the greater Columbus area. Since it seems that the beauty of Central Ohio was not enough to keep him in the organization, perhaps he’ll enjoy sipping upon some Pawtucket Patriot Ale in his new office.

In light of all of this pitching talk, maybe I’ll finally get a start on continuing the “Forward Thinking” series that started in earnest…oh, a couple of months ago. Until then, think of me as I trudge up and down the rickety ladder that leads to my attic and the giant Rubbermaid containers that hold all of the Christmas items that figure to be strewn about the Reservation at some point later today.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Lazy Sunday with Manny’s Wish List

Inching closer and closer to Turkey Day with the tasks of the weekend revolving around getting the house ready for what promises to be a holiday season full of house guests, let’s get going on a Lazy Sunday with Manny Acta’s Christmas List, some roster decisions, and the latest Top Prospect rankings…and with that, we’re off:

Leading off, Manny Acta has been sitting down with anyone and everyone who will listen to him at any time that’s agreeable to them, talking about the team he inherited and what the 2010 team might look like. It seemed as if you can’t turn on the TV or the radio without seeing or hearing Acta this past week and, while he’s hit on a myriad of topics in a number of different mediums, the most informative piece cutting through the white noise that usually comes in these interviews comes (not surprisingly) from Anthony Castrovince, who sat down with the new Tribe skipper and the rest of the beat reporters over some Margherita pizza from Pickwick and Frolic.

Before getting into the meat of the conversation, does anyone else find it funny that Acta intimates that he had the exact same Margherita pizza from Pickwick and Frolic during his interview with the Indians? For some reason, I can’t get the image out of my head of Chris Antonetti walking into the room with a handful of menus, asking everyone what they’re in the mood for and with the decision to go with the Margherita Pizza from Pickwick coming after a long debate.

Maybe that’s just because things happen around here (and I would have gone with Pickwick’s Angus and Chorizo Meatloaf if I’m getting food from there…but I’m a meatloaf kind of guy), but visualizing the debate over what to have for lunch while Acta’s conducting his interview with the Indians strikes me as funny, if only putting it into the context of every other office lunch that happens every day.

Nevertheless, the topics of conversation over some pie (covered in no semblance of anorder, other than the order that I want to address them) start with the idea that the Indians are entertaining the idea of bringing in a veteran catcher, despite the fact that they seem to be overflowing with catchers on the 40-man roster. One of those names could be taken out of that mix (Mr. Show Pack) although AC reports that “Acta said that Shoppach is still in the Indians' plans at this moment.”

The fact that they’re even entertaining this notion should be the final stroke on the writing on the wall that ShopVac is not in this team’s plans, immediate or long-term, and while I’ve seen this talk of adding a veteran catcher to “handle the pitching staff” before, I’ll ask again – aren’t the catchers on the 40-man roster the SAME guys who have caught these young pitchers throughout their Minor-League careers? Between Toregas, Gimenez (although he’s probably no more than an emergency catcher now…although that doesn’t mean that he still doesn’t know these pitchers), Marson, and Santana, wouldn’t there be some credence in allowing these pitchers to mature to MLB throwing to battery mates who know their strengths, weaknesses, game plans, and personalities?

Instead of going out and getting a veteran catcher, how about developing a viable back-up catcher of our own for the league minimum to serve as a sounding board for these young pitchers? With that in mind, take a quick look at an absolutely fascinating Q & A with Dave Huff and Lou Marson from David Laurila at B-Pro that sheds a little light on the pitcher/catcher relationship and how it develops as players get to know each other. If that’s not enough for you and you’re still talking about adding that wisdom that a veteran catcher brings…um, isn’t that what the Indians brought Sandy Alomar here for, to impart some of the knowledge that he’s gleaned over the years as an MLB catcher onto his young charges and onto the pitching staff?

With Sandy and his infinite wisdom that fueled all of that 1990’s glory, what’s the point of going out and getting a veteran backstop on a team that has FOUR catchers (three if you don’t count Shoppach, five if you count both Shoppach and Gimenez) on the 40-man roster, all seemingly “ready” (and I use that term loosely) for MLB?

As a quick aside on Sandy before getting into the rest of the Acta conversation, here’s how the Indians were allowed to get Sandy out of Queens, as Sandy essentially asked the Mets to go to Cleveland and the Mets (with Shapiro’s good buddy Omar Minaya calling the shots) acquiesced. If I may make a suggestion as to what Alomar can do now that he’s had his wish granted to return to the organization, it would be to put Sandy in Santana’s back pocket in Goodyear and leave the two of them alone to discuss the ins and outs of being an MLB catcher.

Speaking of former Indians and transitioning to the oft-stated need for Utility IF that Acta alludes to, I think I have the perfect solution for bringing back a slick-fielding ex-Indian very highly regarded in the organization that is currently available on the Free Agent market.
The answer to the question on everyone’s mind is…John McDonald!

No, I’m not kidding and I ask you to consider the following if we’re talking about improving the 2010 team and not just re-living the glory days of the 1990’s (whether or not the rumors of Alvaro Espinoza’s return have been brilliantly exaggerated), in terms of what type of skill set both McDonald and another certain former Indian would bring to the 2010 club:
Johnny Mac – TOR – 2009 (Age 34)
.258 BA / .271 OBP / .384 SLG / .655 OPS in 156 plate appearances over 73 games

Omar Vizquel – TEX – 2009 (Age 42)
.266 BA / .316 OBP / .345 SLG / .660 OPS in 195 plate appearances over 62 games

Sure, this is a little tongue-in-cheek, but it’s done so more to point out that a certain segment of the fanbase is clamoring for the return of Omar (who looks to be going to the South Side), whose performance last year was on par with that put forth by John McDonald in Toronto. I’m not averse to great memories and embracing the history of the Indians, but if we’re talking about a player that’s going to get one start a week while serving as a defensive replacement, pinch runner, and a bat off the bench, signing McDonald (for what would be significantly less than Vizquel’s looking for) makes more sense than a return to the North Coast for Omarvelous.

If you’re looking for a versatile Futility IF who isn’t going to be expected to be much more than a RH complement to Valbuena until Donald is ready and essentially be a defensive replacement at that time, why not Johnny Mac?

Realistically, they shouldn’t even be spending money on a Utility IF and should be combing over the Minor-League FA list and seeing if a guy like Chris Burke could handle the workload until Donald is ready. We’re not looking for Chone Figgins here to play everyday at four different positions or Jose Oquendo to play every position, just someone who falls somewhere between Mike Rouse and Jamey Carroll (yes, Jamey Carroll is the ideal player that I’m putting out there) in terms of performance.

Taking a deeper look at that MiLB FA list and changing the subject completely, would there be any thought of taking a shot at Chad Cordero on a Minor League deal?

Even though Acta said that he’s “very happy with what we have” in the bullpen, if the Indians (hopefully) have learned anything in the past few years, it’s that there can never be too many bullpen arms to throw up against the wall. There is a connection between Acta and Cordero, as Acta was Cordero’s manager in Washington while Cordero saved 66 games in 2006 and 2007 (while posting an ERA+ of 127 over those two years) and there would be some familiarity there for Acta and Cordero. If Cordero can recover from his injuries that have shelved him for the better part of two years, having him as a potential option in the 2010 bullpen or even a reclamation project for the latter part of 2010 isn’t as bile-inducing as spending significant money on a FA pitcher like…I don’t know a Braden Looper or Todd Wellemeyer or someone other suspect for the rotation.

Really, why spend a couple million dollars on the lesser lights of starting pitchers in the FA class if they’re no more of a sure bet than a guy like Chris Capuano, also a MiLB FA, or look to make a move for that arm because, as Acta says in the AC piece, “We might still [get a pitcher], because you have to cover yourself. You can never go into Spring Training short on pitching.”

If we’re talking about arms, why not take a look at the arbitration-eligibles from the Marlins as they have a history of dealing their arbitration-eligible players? Guys like Matt Lindstrom or Ricky Nolasco (listed as a potential trade candidate in this piece from Matthew Pouliat of NBC Sports in a FANTASTIC series analyzing Free Agency) could possibly be had from Florida for the right package of young (and, more importantly, cheap) players.

Jumping off from the mention of Nolasco and staying with the aforementioned Pouliat piece, he does project an interesting group of pitchers that he identifies as potential “trade candidates”. If we’re going with that idea of a trade to supplement the rotation by UPGRADING it and not simply adding an arm in there to eat innings in front of the youngsters, the ones that could be available (ignoring the Roy Halladay stratosphere and the Kei Igawa depths) that stand out include Chad Billingsley (Dodgers), Edwin Jackson (Tigers), Ricky Nolasco (Marlins), Jonathan Sanchez (Giants), Zach Duke (Pirates), Aaron Harang (Reds), Brandon Morrow (Mariners), Manny Parra (Brewers), John Maine (Mets), Kevin Correia (Padres), Andy Sonnanstine (Rays), Collin Balester (Nationals), Kyle Kendrick (Phillies), Ian Kennedy (Yankees), and Jo-Jo Reyes (Braves).

How many of those guys are legitimately “available” and not just the subject of conjecture by a baseball writer is up for argument, as is whether some of them represent much of an upgrade over what the Indians already have in-house. But there are some names in there that could certainly represent an upgrade AND be names that would still be in the rotation in 2011 and beyond. If you want a list of players that the Indians should be looking at instead of perusing former Indians on the FA list or looking for the next Carl Pavano, there’s what the list should look like…

As for the other “need” addressed by Acta, a RH bat who can play some 1B and (while they’re not saying it out loud) complement Hafner at DH if he still can’t play every game, I hit on this a while back, but those pickings are slim and none and if the idea is to not unnecessarily spend money on a non-vital part of the team, give that RH bat role to Andy Marte and just be done with it.

Moving away from Acta’s Magical Media Tour, the big news of the week came with the roster decisions made and the impact of those decisions on potential Rule 5 draftees. As usual, Tony Lastoria is on the whole matter like white on rice. One of the players not rostered by the Indians will join Tony and I for a special Sunday edition of “Smoke Signals” as we’ll welcome in LHP Chuck Lofgren after hitting on all of the pertinent topics starting at 9:30 tonight.

Speaking of young players, rostered and non-rostered, here is the latest from Kevin Goldstein’s “Future Shock” at Baseball Prospectus, which lists the Top 11 prospects in the Indians’ organization (actually, Goldstein goes as deep as 15) as Goldstein provides a tremendous summary for each.

Portions of the article are pay content, but let me just quickly summarize (though it doesn’t do justice to the depth of the piece) that Goldstein sees an organization deep in talent and thinks that Santana is a likely perennial All-Star, that Chisenhall is a sweet-swinging 3B with 20-25 HR potential who could be the Opening Day 3B in 2011 (when The Chiz would still only be 22 years old), that Jason Knapp will be full healthy when pitchers and catchers report and figures to form 1/3 of the triumvirate of power arm stable (with Alex White and Nick Hagadone) that should be floating around Kinston and Akron this year, and that Asdrubal Cabrera (listed 2nd to Santana under “Top Talents 25 and Under) is a “future star”.

I’ll leave you with that bit of optimism because the holidays are a time for joy…at least as soon as I can finish moving items up and down from the attic in anticipation of another holiday season here at The Reservation.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tomahawks from a New Bench

While everyone attempts to erase the events of Monday night on the lakefront from their memories, let’s fire a few tomahawks off to cover the latest happenings on The Reservation with a more complete coaching staff, more projections, and some Must-See-TV...let ‘em loose:

The Indians’ coaching staff continues to be filled out as Sandy Alomar, Jr., Scott Radinsky, Tim Tolman, and Steve Smith join Tim Belcher on the Tribe bench as the new First Base Coach/catching coordinator (Alomar), bullpen coach (Radinsky), bench coach (Tolman) and Third Base coach/infielder coach (Smith). Following along the idea that the staff would be populated by internal options (Radinsky to join Belcher) and external candidates (Tolman, Smith, and most recently Alomar); the Indians’ coaching staff is starting to get fleshed out.

In terms of the most recognizable name added to the big-league staff, the name of Sandy Alomar, Jr. obviously tugs at the heartstrings, as memories of “Sandy the Player” cannot be ignored, nor can his place in Indians’ lore. The announcement came as a bit of a surprise as it had been previously reported that Sandy was on the Mets’ coaching staff and that he was essentially “off-limits” to the Indians in terms of him simply making a lateral move to another organization. Regardless of how it went down, Alomar joins the staff to…well, stand at First Base and do what Luis Rivera did for…I don’t know, must have been a few years, and to handle the coaching of the catchers.

While his First Base coach duties figure to be pretty forgettable (quick, tell me who the First Base Coach was during the run in the 1990’s), his mentoring of the young catchers is where Alomar hopefully makes an impression. Given that Carlos Santana is likely to be the Indians’ everyday catcher by the middle of the season, one would have to think that Alomar’s main job will be to tutor Santana into becoming a complete catcher instead of simply a hitting machine with unpolished receiving skills and a propensity for (as Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein called it) “histrionics” behind the plate that didn’t sit too well with opponents. A long time ago, on a coast far, far away from Cleveland, Alomar was a similarly hyped young prospect who translated his promise to MLB success, a transition he can hopefully impart on Santana.

While the emotional attachments are terrific for some (and I could be wrong but I’m not anticipating a flood of the phone banks at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario tomorrow morning based on this news), let’s hope that those emotional strings did not play the largest role in Alomar’s hiring. Re-living and relishing the past only gets one so far, so it remains to be seen if “Sandy the Coach” rivals “Sandy the Player” in terms of organizational impact. While that impact may be a hard thing to measure and at the risk of sounding heartless, “Sandy the Coach” is the only one that I care about going forward because the 1990’s were great times for Indians’ fans...but I’m more interested in creating memories and not just remembering them.

After Alomar, the name that most people have likely heard of belongs to Scott Radinsky, who climbs one rung up the organizational ladder to preside over the Indians’ bullpen after serving as the AAA pitching coach in Columbus. He comes with a resume built on his time as a reliever in MLB and an apparent ability to rectify mechanical problems, something he did most notably with Stomp Lewis in 2008. While his results of returning a pitcher to their past successes were not universal when sent down to AAA (Rafael Perez in 2009 being the obvious example), he now has a chance to do his tinkering at the big-league level in an attempt to maximize the arms that project to the 2010 bullpen.

Most of the pitchers that figure into the 2010 bullpen are pitchers that he’s coached already (Wood and Chris Perez being the exceptions) and with his area of expertise (at least from his playing days) having to do with relieving, the time is right for him to ply his craft at the big-league level and perhaps allow some of the other MiLB pitching coaches in the organization (like Akron’s Ruben Niebla) to climb that organizational ladder to the next rung. While it could be argued that Radinsky is getting this gig a year too late, his familiarity with the arms on hand (and his success with them) should allow the name Chuck Hernandez to drift away into the wind.

Beyond Alomar and Radinsky, the other new coach with a history with the Indians organization is Tim Tolman (mistaken by some for Red Forman from “That 70’s Show”), as Tolman was the Indians’ Minor League Field Coordinator from 2003 to 2006. What a “Minor League Field Coordinator” does is not my area of expertise, but Tolman should have some level of familiarity with the organization while providing that “fresh set of eyes” that many desired in John Farrell in that Tolman was around for the period of building the team that competed in 2005 and 2007 and left only when offered the position of Third Base Coach in Washington in 2007.

Interestingly, Tolman was Manny Acta’s manager in Burlington (the Astros’ Single-A affiliate) in 1991, Acta’s last year as a player and Tolman’s first year as a minor-league manager. Thus, the two are intimately familiar with each other as Tolman also served on Acta’s staff in Washington, though not as Acta’s bench coach. The thought was out there that Acta’s bench coach would be someone with managerial experience with someone like Acta’s former bench coach in Washington, Pat Corrales, perhaps fitting that bill…except that Corrales retired last year because of health issues. Regardless of whether anyone can even articulate what a bench coach does (other than handing in lineup cards and playing devil’s advocate to the manager), I’m inclined to give Acta the benefit of the doubt in terms of knowing what type of personality he wants on the bench to be the yin to his yang in handling game situations.

Speaking of types of personality, it would certainly seem that the Indians netted themselves someone who would projects a fiery personality in new 3B coach/infield instructor Steve Smith, formerly of the Phillies, among others. A quick Google search not only finds this marvelous picture but also this beautiful bit of reporting following a three-game suspension that he took in 2007:
“Do I think [three games is] harsh? Yeah,” Smith said. “They explained it was because I came out on the field. That’s one day. The other two days are for my history. I’ve been thrown out a few times over the years.”

With the Rangers last season, Smith was suspended for five games for arguing a call with umpire Brian O’Nora. Mark Teixeira was called out on a play at the plate, and Smith ran in to argue, inadvertently spitting some chewing tobacco in O’Nora’s eye.

Though unintentional, Smith received a five-game suspension. The three games Smith got for Sunday’s incident were equal to the punishment levied to Cubs hitting coach Gerald Perry, who got into an altercation during Saturday's game between the Cubs and Padres.

Smith feels he was misunderstood. He believes that umpires consider the suggestion of disrespect objectionable and subject to ejection.

”They make it sound coaches just have to sit there and take it,” Smith said. “When an umpire is cursing me out, and all I said was, ‘We got it,’ and he threw me out. He couldn’t wait for me to even move. You can’t breathe.”

Who said this team needs a little hell, fire, and brimstone after the monotony of the last seven years?
Enter Steve Smith, with the only question being what uniform he’s going to wear so we can all roll around the corner of Carnegie and Ontario with base coach helmets and wads of tobacco tucked away in our lips.

But I digress, the one name that still seems to be missing from the coaches appointed is quite obviously Torey Lovullo, who most assumed would find a spot among Acta’s staff after he was given the opportunity to interview for the managerial position and paying his organizational dues. The hirings of Smith (3B Coach/Infielders) and to a lesser degree Alomar (1B Coach/Catchers) likely removes any possibility that Lovullo joins the Indians’ coaching staff in any capacity. The only as-yet-unnamed position to be filled is that of the Hitting Coach and Manny Acta stated on WTAM on Tuesday morning that he was had recently been to Venezuela (where Jon Nunally is the hitting coach for Caracas in the Venezuelan Winter League) to interview “internal candidates” for the job.

Whether Nunally gets the Hitting Coach gig, Lovullo remains on the outside looking in and may be looking at a return trip to helm the Clippers in 2010 unless the Indians find another spot for him in the organization (one that would be seen as a promotion) or if he finds himself outside of the organization after being passed over for the newly named coaching staff.

Last week, the Bill James 2010 Handbook projections became fodder for discussion and a new week brings a new set of projections – this time from CHONE, who provides his 2010 projections, even if it is only for hitters at this point. His projections are not far off from those of Bill James (shown under BJ2K10), that I’ll put up there again for comparison’s sake:
Lou Marson
.251 BA / .339 OBP / .347 SLG / .686 OPS with 3 HR in 291 AB over 110 games
.280 BA / .372 OBP / .360 SLG / .732 OPS with 1 HR in 150 AB over 49 games

Kelly Shoppach
.229 BA / .322 OBP / .422 SLG / .744 OPS with 14 HR in 301 AB over 101 games
.249 BA / .333 OBP / .465 SLG / .798 OPS with 19 HR in 381 AB over 113 games

Carlos Santana
.243 BA / .332 OBP / .390 SLG / .722 OPS with 8 HR in 313 AB over 122 games
.270 BA / .356 OBP / .419 SLG / .775 OPS with 16 HR in 503 AB over 128 games

First Base
Matt LaPorta
.268 BA / .341 OBP / .467 SLG / .808 OPS with 18 HR in 422 AB over 133 games
.266 BA / .334 OBP / .468 SLG / .802 OPS with 20 HR in 451 AB over 121 games

Second Base
Luis Valbuena
.258 BA / .326 OBP / .393 SLG / .719 OPS with 8 HR in 387 AB over 131 games
.257 BA / .323 OBP / .399 SLG / .722 OPS with 9 HR in 366 AB over 103 games

Jason Donald
.241 BA / .307 OBP / .353 SLG / .660 OPS with 5 HR in 348 AB over 116 games
Not available

Asdrubal Cabrera
.285 BA / .355 OBP / .411 SLG / .766 OPS with 7 HR in 470 AB over 138 games
.294 BA / .358 OBP / .421 SLG / .779 OPS with 9 HR in 582 AB over 157 games

Third Base
Jhonny Peralta
.257 BA / .326 OBP / .406 SLG / .732 OPS with 16 HR in 579 AB over 151 games
.269 BA / .336 OBP / .424 SLG / .760 OPS with 16 HR in 531 AB over 146 games

Andy Marte
.262 BA / .315 OBP / .443 SLG / .758 OPB with 15 HR in 409 AB over 127 games
.258 BA / .320 OBP / .452 SLG / .772 OPB with 6 HR in 155 AB over 65 games

Grady Sizemore
.276 BA / .373 OBP / .493 SLG / .866 OPS with 24 HR in 525 AB over 130 games
.272 BA / .369 OBP / .484 SLG / .853 OPS with 25 HR in 574 AB over 144 games

Shin-Soo Choo
.280 BA / .368 OBP / .456 SLG / .824 OPS with 15 HR in 472 AB over 135 games
.293 BA / .383 OBP / .467 SLG / .850 OPS with 19 HR in 583 AB over 156 games

Mike Brantley
.273 BA / .349 OBP / .358 SLG / .707 OPS with 3 HR in 377 AB over 129 games
.268 BA / .342 OBP / .335 SLG / .677 OPS with 4 HR in 526 AB over 130 games

Trevor Crowe
.255 BA / .331 OBP / .371 SLG / .702 OPS with 5 HR in 364 AB over 116 games
.260 BA / .335 OBP / .360 SLG / .695 OPS with 3 HR in 311 AB over 93 games

Designated Hitter
Travis Hafner
.259 BA / .353 OBP / .449 SLG / .802 OPS with 18 HR in 410 AB over 112 games
.275 BA / .385 OBP / .495 SLG / .880 OPS with 16 HR in 309 AB over 98 games

Don’t ask me how “at-bats” or “games played” is determined (or whether the math on it even works out), but anyone else notice that CHONE is the second set of projections that have Andy Marte putting up better numbers in 2010 than Jhonny Peralta?

CHONE is not nearly as bullish on Hafner or any of the catching options as Bill James is, and these projections should be taken as just that (which historically look on the low side every time they come out), but it’s interesting nonetheless to see what an unbiased projection of the 2010 offense looks like.

Winding it down, Manny Acta appeared on “More Sports & Les Levine” on Monday night, when most everyone was getting ready for the event on the Lakefront, listening to the blathering of the ESPN talking heads prior to kick-off while Acta was on MS&LL.

If you did miss it, here is a little highlight clip with Acta hitting on how every team is looking for starting pitching “unless you can just go out and buy two starters every year” (in a nice dig at the Evil Empire), why Sizemore is likely to lead off (high OBP regardless of strikeouts and to allow Brantley to ease into the lineup) at least to start the season, attempting to explain the enigma that his Jhonny Peralta, how he thinks that putting an emphasis on winning in Spring Training could be a solution to a better start to the season, why the “wide open” nature of the AL Central (which is just as good as saying mediocrity of the division) was one of the things that lured him to Cleveland, his preference for a set line-up, and his optimism on Hafner’s health.

The clip (only 6:20, so worth a listen) gets across Acta’s affable personality and his optimism for next year and while he doesn’t say anything different than what was heard from the former manager, it does come from a new voice. If anything can be taken from the interview, it is that “new voice” that Acta brings that will hopefully breathe new life into a club that had become moribund and listless.

Finally, MLB Network is currently running their “30 Clubs, 30 Recaps” series during their “Hot Stove” show throughout the month of November and the Indians go under the microscope of Reynolds, Leiter, and Heymann on Wednesday, November 18th at 6:00 PM. If you miss it and forget to set the DVR, it will replay on MLB Network at 7:00 PM and 10:00 PM on Wednesday.

After what transpired on Monday night on the lakefront, thinking about Spring and the Indians may be a welcome transgression as you pull your “ALOMAR 15” jersey out of the back of the closet because I know you weren’t still wearing it…were you?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lazy Sunday Around the Central

Another weekend on the North Coast, another 50-plus degree Sunday with no NFL to ruin my day and take away from the majesty that is Fall in Cleveland, even if we are in mid-November and simply living the dream with this recent weather. Nevertheless, it is Sunday and it’s time to get down to brass tax by hammering out a Lazy one before heading out to the park with The DiaperTribe to work on that curveball…I’m kidding, maybe. Whether I’m kidding or not, let’s get loose on a Lazy Sunday:

With very little happening around the Wigwam, outside of Buster Olney’s not-so-shocking “revelation” (Insider only) that the Indians would listen to offers for Kerry Wood and that with the glut of closers on the market, the Indians aren’t going to get much for Wood unless they “eat some money” on his deal, maybe we’ll take this in another direction to whirl around the Central, if only to check in on what the off-season is looking like for the rest of the division.

As a nice introduction to this trip around the Central comes from’s Cliff Corcoran, who dips his toe into the shallow pool that is the AL Central, with his take on the outlook for the Indians in 2010 not looking too far off what many feel:
With a new manager in place, the Indians are loaded with prospects, many of whom have already been rushed to the majors due simply to the lack of viable alternatives, and will spend the next couple of seasons sorting through their booty in an attempt to turn all that raw talent into a winning ball club.

Sounds about right as, unless something major happens this off-season (and adding a utility infielder, even if his name is Omar, doesn’t count as “major” or even as a good move given his age and his struggles against LHP, despite the goodwill it would create for PR), the Indians are likely going with the team as it’s presently constructed, having made their major moves in July of this past year. The “booty” from those moves will have be developed and turned into a “winning ball club”…but that’s old news.

Despite the opinions on the Indians’ chances for contending in the AL Central in 2010 ranging from “eh…maybe I could see it if EVERYTHING goes right” to “not bloody likely”, looking around the rest of the Central, it should come as no surprise that the division looks to be weak (and maybe weaker that 2009, in fact) and there for the taking for nearly any team…no, not you Kansas City.

As for the biggest news of the off-season pertaining to the AL Central, it’s been reported by more than one media outlet that the Tigers are looking to shed payroll in a big way…and fast:
Owner Mike Ilitch, whose liberal spending for downtrodden Detroit bolstered the Tigers in tough times, now finally appears ready to cut back. Tigers people told competing GMs they'd be willing to listen to offers for center fielder Curtis Granderson, pitcher Edwin Jackson, perhaps third baseman Brandon Inge and others in an effort to curtail their payroll only a year before several big contracts will expire. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski doesn't call it a fire sale. But one competing GM said, "I feel sorry for them." Sounds like some sort of sale.

In case you’re wondering what “several big contracts” look like, consider who the Tigers will be paying in 2010 and what dollar amounts will be doled out to each:
Cabrera - $20M
Magglio - $18M
Guillen - $13M
Bonderman - $12.5M
Dontrelle - $12M
Robertson - $10M

Excluding the Miggy deal (as he’s the only name on that list that even comes close to justifiably cashing those checks), that’s $65.5M for three pitchers who aren’t likely to be in the rotation or anywhere near the back-end of the bullpen, and two players who are both around 35 years old whose numbers have steadily declined in each of the last two seasons nearly to the point of mediocrity.

Counter that with the news that the Tigers are looking to move the 29-year-old Granderson (owed $23.75M under his current deal through 2012 with a $13M option and a $2M buyout in 2013), the 26-year-old Jackson (arbitration eligible, but under club control for the next two years), and the 32-year-old Inge (owed $6.6M in 2010, the final year of his deal), and it would seem that the Tigers are in a definite transitional phase here.

While moving Granderson and Jackson certainly look short-sighted given the team’s lack of a suitable replacement for either and could have been blown out of proportion in an obviously slow MLB news week, the decisions made in Detroit this off-season are going to go a long way in determining not only what the team will look like in 2010, but more importantly past 2010 when a lot (but not all) of those bad contracts come off of the books.

If you’re pegging the off-season in Detroit as potentially franchise-changing, what can be said about what figures to be happening in the Twin Cities, as the team is ready to move into a new ballpark for 2010 and is looking to lock up their hometown hero, their best player Joe Mauer past 2010, his final season under contract with the Twinkies?
How’s that for a watershed off-season?

The Twins have already been active with their addition of JJ Hardy (who figures to get a raise from the $4.65M he earned last year through the arbitration process in the hopes that he can improve on his .659 OPS from a year ago in Milwaukee) and by picking up the $10.5M option on Michael Cuddyer, a move seen by’s Rob Neyer as a confusing move in a long line of “double-standard” contracts from the Twins:
But the Twins have a history of overspending on decent players while complaining about the high price of truly great players. Remember, it was just a year ago that they couldn't afford Johan Santana but quite happily blew $9 million on Craig Monroe and Livan Hernandez. And if they're not able to keep Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer in the long term, their money mismanagement is simply going to drop them from contention.

As for the Mauer situation, it unquestionably represents Priority #1 in Minnesota, but as Buster Olney points out, the Mauer negotiations (handled by Mauer’s agent Ron Shapiro, who represented Cal Ripken, Jr. and Kirby Puckett, two of the last superstar players in MLB who remained with one team throughout their career…who also happens to be Mark Shapiro’s dad) could be the litmus test for baseball and the growing disparity between the “haves” and the “have-nots”.

On that very topic and into the Windy City, there was an interesting quote from White Sox GM Kenny Williams concerning what he sees as “tiers of teams” and how each “tier” is able to approach the Free Agent market:
"There are actually three or four different free-agent markets. There’s the Yankees, Red Sox, both LA teams, the cubs. Then there’s probably that secondary market where we probably fall in. Then there’s a tier below us - smaller markets, competitive teams that want to go for it in this particular year. Then you have some of the poor-market teams where they’re trying to piece things together.
Some teams can’t walk in the door and say, OK, we’re going to compete with the White Sox. If we want that player, you’re not getting him. And then...last year, I told (Cashman), 'I like Sabathia.' He said, 'You’re not getting him. I’m getting him.'"

That’s all well and good, but if I’m not mistaken, Williams traded for Jake Peavy and claimed Alex Rios on a waiver claim in the second half of last year. In consummating those deals, Williams added the following numbers to his payroll:
2010 – $19.7M ($10M for Peavy, $9.7M for Rios)
2011 – $28M ($16M for Peavy, $12M for Rios)
2012 – $29M ($17M for Peavy, $12M for Rios)
2013 – $16.5M or $34.5M ($22M option for Peavy or a $4M buyout; $12.5M for Rios)
2014 – $12.5M (Rios only)
2015 - $1M or $13.5M (Rios option buy-out amount and cost of picking it up)

Williams correctly asserts that the White Sox are likely on that “2nd tier” of teams, but it is interesting how Williams’ apparent strategy for getting around this inability to compete with the likes of the Yankees and the Red Sox on the open market is to be an inordinately aggressive risk-taker on the trade market and on players like Rios, in the hopes that he can build his team with talent (and I use that term loosely with Rios) that may be high-priced, but is talent already under contract when acquired.

As for the Royals, after the Mark Teahen to the White Sox deal, GM Dayton Moore said, “Our motivation behind this deal — and any deal that we make this winter, is to acquire as many zero-to-three service-time players as we can. That was certainly what we did here.” It’s actually not a bad strategy if you are where the Royals are as an organization (and not all that different from what the Indians did the last two summers), but they have to hope that the zero-to-three service time players they acquire in this new grouping of youngsters does better than those that have played a role in the past five to ten years.

It sounds almost absurd to say, but the clock is already ticking on the Royals to contend with Zach Grienke still at the top of their rotation. He’s signed through the 2013 season and the Royals would have to hope to take advantage of having one of the best LHP in MLB at some point during his tenure there. If the players that they’ve drafted in the past few years or have recently acquired fall into the John Buck/Mark Teahen category of average MLB players, you have to start to wonder what direction they take with Grienke as he is undeniably their most valuable asset. If the Royals don’t improve appreciably in the next year or two, you would have to think that they would consider moving Grienke to net multiple young players. In one sense, it could probably even be argued that the time to entertain offers for Grienke may be coming faster than Kansas City wants to admit as the Royals are pretty far removed from contention (and I should point out here that they had an identical record to the Tribe last year) and the haul that Grienke would net them would certainly put their rebuild on the fast track…or at least faster.

Moving away from the Central and back to the North Coast, John Perotto of Baseball Prospectus puts The BLC on his 2009 MLB All-Star Team as the best RF in MLB this past year:
Right fielder: Shin-Soo Choo, Indians. His season was the classic case of a tree falling in a forest, as he finished with 5.8 WARP1, a .309 EqA, .300/.394/.489, 20 homers, and 21 steals. Yet it seems no one heard it amidst the Tribe's disastrous 98-loss campaign.

The “tree falling in a forest” line hurts…it’s appropriate, but it does hurt.
It doesn’t change the fact that SS Choo is seen as the BEST by ANY RF in MLB and that he’s under club control until the end of the 2013 season. Assuming his military obligation in South Korea REALLY isn’t an issue, there’s a tangible goal for this off-season – buying up Choo’s arbitration years and maybe even his 2014 FA year to keep The BLC in an Indians’ uniform.

As for the idea to put Hot Carl Pavano back into an Indians’ uniform, didn’t his 2009 performance price him out of the Indians’ plans (hopefully…fingers crossed) in that some team is going to give him a multi-year deal, even if “multi-year” means two, that he doesn’t justify?

Plus, take a closer look at the quote by Chris Antonetti from the piece that generated the “Pavano as an option for the rotation” talk without the noise from Pavano’s agent regarding the Indians’ “interest”:
“We appreciate the job Carl did for us. He continued to pitch well for the Twins. We’ll have to see what Carl’s expectations are.”

His “expectations” (or at least those of his agent) are that Pavano’s going to be looking for a multi-year deal because he just did his one-year/prove-himself deal and he’s ready to get back into the multi-year deal business. Knowing that the Twins have an interest (allegedly), isn’t the agent just trying to create that “second suitor” for Pavano (real or imagined) to get the best deal for his client?

That’s all well and good for Pavano in terms of him getting the deal he wants…as long as the announcement of that deal doesn’t take place at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. If Carl Pavano is the baseline from which the Indians should be looking to improve their rotation, bringing him (or anyone else like him) in on a deal, particularly a multi-year deal, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense if you’re talking about an innings-eater whose only going to be eating innings that could be going to some of the young arms. If a pitcher brought in, he should represent an appreciable upgrade from the arms already in-house and should be figured on being a contributor to the team past 2010 and into the next “window” of contention…that is “scheduled” for 2011 and beyond. Terry Pluto asserts that the team “will probably add a veteran starter/reclamation project in the Carl Pavano mode”, but let’s hope that the motivation for doing so is not based on the idea that they can potentially flip said “veteran starter/reclamation project” in July of 2010 after that player has taken 100 or so innings that could have gone to the likes of Dave Huff or Aaron Laffey, two players that still could figure into the post-2010 plans.

As for potential Free Agent adds (though that doesn’t seem too likely) on the North Coast that would represent an upgrade (assuming health), here’s a list of the “10 Riskiest Free Agents”, which include SP Rich Harden and SP/RP Justin Duchscherer…and even those guys are likely to find deals more attractive than what the Indians are likely to be offering.

Things remain quiet on The Reservation these days and are likely to stay that way, outside of the random coaching hire announcements and the 40-man/Rule 5 talk (which Tony Lastoria has been and will be all over) that should fill out November. With that in mind, it’s time to head off to the park on a gorgeous Fall day in Cleveland to see if a nearly-3-year-old can throw a cut fastball.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Projection Screen

In the midst of looking at all of the “who, what, where” of next year, I thought it might be interesting to pass along the first 2010 projections that have emerged for Indians’ players. The projections, which will be the first of many from various sources, are compiled each year by Bill James (who I’m assuming you know by now even if it’s just because he works for the Red Sox, but you can watch this “60 Minutes” piece as a nice intro) among others, for The Bill James Handbook 2010, which is now available from ACTA Sports…no relation to the Tribe skipper, I think.

Regardless, the wonderful folks over at FanGraphs take a number of the player projections that come out prior to each year to put on their marvelous site in an attempt to put all of the information in one place for your easy perusal. Being sick as I am (and not interested in reading about which members of the 2010 Free Agent Class will be donning the pinstripes soon…besides Lackey, of course) , I thought I would take it a step farther and consolidate it into an even easier format to see how the folks at The Bill James Handbook saw things shaking out in 2010 on the North Coast.

Please keep in mind that these are all projections, courtesy of The Bill James Handbook 2010 and Fangraphs, but here’s what one source sees happening for our beloved Erie Warriors in the coming season:
Lou Marson
.280 BA / .372 OBP / .360 SLG / .732 OPS with 1 HR in 150 AB over 49 games
Kelly Shoppach
.249 BA / .333 OBP / .465 SLG / .798 OPS with 19 HR in 381 AB over 113 games
Carlos Santana
.270 BA / .356 OBP / .419 SLG / .775 OPS with 16 HR in 503 AB over 128 games
I'd like to see if I can find a way to let every other MLB team see this projection for Mr. Show Pack for informational purposes when discussing his imminent trade. Perhaps I could get one to Milwaukee (who could be looking to move Dave Bush as he attempts to get healthy) or to Philadelphia (where perhaps Kyle Kendrick, who seems to have fallen out of favor, might be pried away in a package) or to any other NL team for whom 19 HR from the catching position would start the sounds of trumpets blaring.

The big projection here (and maybe anywhere on the roster) though?
Carlos Santana, who the folks at Bill James see playing in 128 games (which actually sounds about right in that he’d be in Cleveland in mid-May or thereabouts, particularly when you see the 49 games for higher-projected-OBP-than-SLG Lou Marson) and doing more than holding his own, considering the average line for an AL catcher in 2009 was .253 BA / .315 OBP / .406 SLG / .721 OPS and the average line in the NL was even worse.
The Carlos Santana Era is close…get excited.

First Base
Matt LaPorta
.266 BA / .334 OBP / .468 SLG / .802 OPS with 20 HR in 451 AB over 121 games
While an .802 OPS would not exactly punch LaPorta’s ticket to the Midsummer Classic, it would represent the highest OPS for anyone on the 2009 Indians’ team with more than 400 AB not named SS Choo. Taking a look at this projection (20 HR particularly) and combining it with the projection for Santana, are you starting to see the future here a little bit?

No, neither is going to step in and immediately post an OPS over .900 or even anchor the 2010 lineup, but given their age and their potential, the hope is there for each to develop into mainstays of the lineup, with the foundation being poured in 2010.

Second Base
Luis Valbuena
.257 BA / .323 OBP / .399 SLG / .792 OPS with 9 HR in 366 AB over 103 games
While Jason Donald is not included in the projections, the fact that Valbuena’s projected number of games totals 103 would seem to indicate that the folks at The Bill James Handbook believe that Valbuena is going to see some time on the bench against LHP. Who his “platoon” partner would be (if it is, in fact, a straight platoon or just one that sees Valbuena get days off against tougher LHP) remains to be seen, but the projected line from Valbuena, who will just turn 24 at the end of this month, is fine by me.

Asdrubal Cabrera
.294 BA / .358 OBP / .421 SLG / .779 OPS with 9 HR in 582 AB over 157 games
The first disappointment among the projections comes for Asdrubal, who the folks at Bill James see as ripe for a slight regression, with lower numbers nearly across the board, even if they’re only slightly lower than his 2009 totals. The reason that this projection comes as a disappointment is that it presents the case that Cabrera is what he is as a hitter and that he’s not at the precipice of taking that next step into becoming an elite offensive threat at SS. Don’t get me wrong, the projections are far from abysmal, particularly for a SS (where the MLB average OPS in 2009 was .714), but for a player who turns 24 this week and has shown flashes that he can turn into a dynamic top-of-the-order hitter, these projections are a splash of cold water on expectations.

Third Base
Jhonny Peralta
.269 BA / .336 OBP / .424 SLG / .760 OPS with 16 HR in 531 AB over 146 games
Andy Marte
.258 BA / .320 OBP / .452 SLG / .772 OPB with 6 HR in 155 AB over 65 games
Again, these are just projections…but while the good people at Bill James see a slight uptick for Peralta from his 2009 season, they certainly don’t hold out much hope that he’s close to returning to his pre-2009 form and assert that better power numbers will be put up by Andy Marte, whose HR number projected out over the same amount of AB projected for Peralta comes to 20. It might be a good time to mention that the difference, in terms of salary, between these two players in 2010 figures to be about $4M.

Will Peralta improve with a full off-season of knowing he’s playing 3B under his belt and out from under the eye of The Atomic Wedgie and will Marte put up decent numbers, again out from under the eye of The Atomic Wedgie? Out of all of the players that figure to have a new lease on life on a team not managed by Eric Wedge, these two stand to benefit the most from a new voice in the dugout. Whether both remain to hear that new voice in the dugout…well, that’s a whole different story.

Grady Sizemore
.272 BA / .369 OBP / .484 SLG / .853 OPS with 25 HR in 574 AB over 144 games
Shin-Soo Choo
.293 BA / .383 OBP / .467 SLG / .850 OPS with 19 HR in 583 AB over 156 games
Mike Brantley
.268 BA / .342 OBP / .335 SLG / .677 OPS with 4 HR in 526 AB over 130 games
Trevor Crowe
.260 BA / .335 OBP / .360 SLG / .695 OPS with 3 HR in 311 AB over 93 games
A couple of positive projections here, with the idea that Grady Sizemore will return to being Grady Sizemore in 2010, with numbers that resemble his 2007 season and with the assertion that The BLC is certainly the real McCoy. While Sizemore’s numbers tend to go along with the idea that a “next step” for him as a hitter may not ever be attained, a 25 HR-21 SB while playing stellar defense is a nice first step back from his lost 2009 season. As for Choo, the projections (29 players in the AL had an OPS of .850 or better last year, including Choo) are pretty much in line with what his 2009 looked like, if slightly lower, cementing his validity as a middle-of-the-order-presence.

Brantley’s numbers look like those of a young player still adjusting to a new league (and certainly not one who is ready to assume a lead-off spot), but not far off what he did in his stint with the parent club in 2009. The projection calls for Brantley to swipe 48 bases in those 130 games, walk more than he strikes, and to notch 21 doubles, so the “low-at-first-glance” number shouldn’t prevent excitement as Brantley won’t turn 23 until next May. Trevor Crowe on the other hand, with a similar projection, turns 26 next week and no longer elicits much more than cursory consideration as a 4th outfielder.

Designated Hitter
Travis Hafner
.275 BA / .385 OBP / .495 SLG / .880 OPS with 16 HR in 309 AB over 98 games
At what point does that projection stop looking good?
All of those numbers look great…until you see the AB and the games played. I’m not going to pretend to know how Bill James and his crew come up with these projections or what role injuries play in that equation, but this unfortunately may be what we’re looking at from Hafner for the next couple of years – solid production, provided on an inconsistent basis.
Maybe the great surprise comes in 2010 with Hafner, further removed from surgery and ready to play everyday; but I’ve been holding my breath for that day one for too long now already.

Justin Masterson
4.00 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 151 K, 74 BB in 171 IP
Jeremy Sowers
4.44 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 81 K, 48 BB in 150 IP
Dave Huff
4.47 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 106 K, 45 BB in 143 IP
Fausto Carmona
4.56 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 96 K, 59 BB in 152 IP
Aaron Laffey
4.99 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 92 K, 60 BB in 157 IP
Carlos Carrasco
5.20 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 40 K, 19 BB in 45 IP
Since Jake Westbrook did not qualify for the projections in The Bill James Handbook, that’s what we’re looking at for the starting rotation, listed in descending order of projected ERA. The projections for Masterson, Sowers (surprise!), and even Huff are mildly encouraging, particularly when Masterson’s K numbers look so high and Huff’s WHIP and K/BB look so solid. Certainly I would think that most people would take three pitchers with ERA’s under 4.50 in next year’s rotation. Problem is, those may be the ERA’s at the top of the rotation and not from the middle to the back of the rotation.

Obviously, the projections are not sparkling for Carmona or Laffey, with both looking at K/BB rates that…well, frankly look like the worst-case scenario for each and Carlos Carrasco’s projection looking like he is not ready for MLB. Maybe Westbrook comes back and fronts the top of the rotation as a healthy and effective innings-eater, but that’s just another “maybe” in a rotation that looks to be full of them, based on these projections or otherwise.

Kerry Wood
3.54 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 62 K, 24 BB in 56 IP
Chris Perez
3.57 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 76 K, 37 BB in 63 IP
Tony Sipp
3.34 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 44 K, 17 BB in 35 IP
Joe Smith
3.94 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 28 K, 15 BB in 32 IP
Rafael Perez
3.72 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 51 K, 20 BB in 58 IP
Jensen Lewis
3.89 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 75 K, 31 BB in 74 IP
Jesse Ray Todd
3.86 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 38 K, 12 BB in 42 IP
Jose Veras
4.09 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 44 K, 21 BB in 44 IP
I’m not going to say…no, don’t jinx it…I swear, I’m not going to be the one to say it.
OK, that bullpen looks pretty good for 2010 based on those projections. Cue the frogs, the name of Tommy John, the lice, pulley ligaments, the flies, shoulder issues, the livestock death, TINSTAPP, the boils, evoke the ghost of Brodzoski (The Close), the hail, the locusts and so on and so on. At some point, a bullpen that looks halfway decent entering a season has to actually perform to some semblance of that promise (and not just two to three guys pitching out of their minds, as was the case in 2007)…doesn’t it?

All told, what are we looking at from the projections in The Bill James Handbook 2010, courtesy of Fangraphs, for the Erie Warriors? About what we see with our eyes, in that the projections put forth the idea that the team will have a good and developing offense, shaky starting pitching, and a (knocking on anything that resembles wood) bullpen full of power arms.

How those factors figure to change before the start of Spring Training next year, in terms of trades, potential adds via the Rule 5 draft or perhaps even via Free Agency, may change; but if the Indians are essentially going with their current roster into 2010 (and most indications lean this way) the projections shown above ring true with about the team that most people see on paper today – a team with a burgeoning young offense that is likely to be held back by the limitations and questions in the starting rotation.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

An Indian Summer Lazy Sunday

As Indian Summer has descended on the North Coast and fresh off a clam-bake last night (that boasted lobsters and growlers of Christmas Ale) let’s get rolling right into a Lazy Sunday so raking duties can be completed quickly and enjoyment of a 70 degree day in November can be maximized. With that, and attempting to shake the Christmas Ale out of my system, we’re off:

With the Yankees winning their 27th World Series and with everyone having an opinion on what exactly the championship means in the context of Yankee lore, current Yankee players, and MLB in general, I’m reminded (not surprisingly) of a line from “Seinfeld”.
If you’ll remember the episode when a married couple (played by Debra Messing and Cary Elwes) approaches George, Jerry, and Elaine at the coffee shop, the conversation ends awkwardly after George tells than wife that she “coulda done a lot better than” her husband. It sets into motion a whole number of story lines, but the wonderful line as the stories played out that always stood out to me was when George visits the wife (now broken up with her husband), attempting to take his comment back with the woman telling him, “Sometimes you don't know how you're really feeling about something until a person like you comes along and articulates it so perfectly.”

Since we all have a pretty good idea of what this Yankees’ championship feels like and how frustrating and gut-wrenching it is, I thought I would pass along the piece that realizes the situation and “articulates it so perfectly”, almost to the point that it just can’t be improved upon. Not surprisingly, it’s from Joe Posnanski and I implore you to read it. Print out a copy and read it and share it with every baseball fan you know or forward the link to those same baseball fans. I would re-post the whole thing if I thought that was the best use of this space, but if you do nothing else today…read this article.

The piece is well-thought-out and cogent and gets to the crux of why baseball may be a beautiful game, but why the current state of MLB may make you want to throw up.
Again, read it because in the immortal words of James Carville, after staring open-mouthed at Frank the Tank, “…that was perfect”.

Moving onto The Reservation, the big news (and trust me, “big” is a relative term) of the week (other than the revelation that Kirk Gibson was among those interviewed for the managerial gig and that Raffy Betancourt may be one of those Type A Free Agents that nobody wants to forfeit two draft picks for) is that Tim Belcher was named the new pitching coach, with his previous duties within the organization stated thusly:
The 48-year-old Belcher spent the past eight seasons as a special assistant in Cleveland's baseball operations. He worked extensively with pitchers at each level of the Indians' Minor League system and worked closely with the Major League pitching coach during Spring Training. He also doubled on the scouting side by giving advance reports on Major League teams.

It does seem strange for a team that has had a difficulty seeing minor league pitching success translate to MLB pitching success to hire someone who “worked closely with the Major League pitching coach during Spring Training”, particularly given the slow starts of everyone not named CP Lee for the last two years. But maybe there’s something tangible that Belcher offered in an organizational interview in terms of how he would take each of these specific Indians’ pitchers that he’s familiar with and use a certain strategy to maximize talent. Belcher has been part of the inner circle of the Indians (an inner circle that once included Bud Black in a nearly identical role and John Farrell in a different role) for nearly 8 years now, so he’s not an unknown quantity at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario in terms of his opinions on players already in the organization or pitching philosophy.

Belcher likely had a hand in the decisions made over the summer, particularly in the additions that the Indians made to the pitching ranks via trade (and, outside of Ant Reyes, I can’t remember a time before this summer the Indians added arms via trade), considering that he was a forward scout for the club and his input was almost certainly considered in the additions of Masterson, Carrasco, and the like. As reader Richard Sheir pointed out, “Shapiro’s career is on the line now and you go with people you trust when the stakes are highest” and whether that’s a good thing or not remains to be seen, but the fact that he’s impressed both those that have known him (Shapiro, etc.) and those that just met him (Acta) mean that there’s something he brings to the table that impresses.

All of that being said, nobody really knows whether Belcher will succeed and it can be debated as to what he did in the organization and why Fausto hasn’t been fixed with him already in the organization or why certain players have not been able to make that leap to MLB success with him as an available sounding board, just as it can be wondered how much input he had in the day-to-day coaching of the pitching staff, or if these tasks even fell under the umbrella of his still unclear day-to-day duties. It quickly becomes a circular argument, but if I can make a suggestion to Belcher that would endear him very quickly to hearts across the North Coast, here it is – fix Fausto and get one or two of these young guys (perhaps this guy, who you probably were watching in Lehigh Valley in mid-July would be a nice start) to develop into more than back-end-of-the-rotation fodder in short order while cobbling together something that resembles a consistent bullpen.
There’s your task, Mr. Belcher…good luck.

The hire from the Indians Front Office to the dugout as a first-time MLB pitching coach had me searching out the coverage associated with the announcement three years ago in Boston when John Farrell was named the Sawx’ pitching coach. Most interesting is this quote from the man who is not the Indians’ new manager in terms of making the transition from a Front Office role (and realizing that Belcher’s role with the Indians was different than the one that Farrell held) to the dugout:
“The newness to the position will be the in-game information and information given to Tito,” Farrell said. “In terms of evaluation and giving recommendations to individual pitchers, in this [former] role, that has been done on a daily basis. Whether it's with a young guy in the system or a guy making the transition to the Major Leagues, those relationships and that communication has been ongoing for the last five years.”
“The way to communicate that is through a detailed or consistent framework that gives each pitcher a consistent starting point that's very routine-oriented and team-based so that their consistency and day-to-day approach will play out on the field,” Farrell said.

Sounds great…just like everything that was said on Friday, right?
Putting it into practice is what Farrell has been able to do in Boston (the talent at his disposal hasn’t hurt either) and whether Belcher is able to do the same (without the luxury of an in-house Beckett and Lester, among others) is something that will play out over the next couple of years…yep, years.

And therein lies the rub with these coaching hires that are unquestionably important to maximize the talent on hand – that there’s really no way for one to quantifiably assert that Belcher will be a good pitching coach or that he won’t. That uncertainty can be applied to any of the coaching hires that are yet to come as the as-yet-unnamed coaches are sure to be disparaged for a lack of acumen because of a lack of perceived progress by some player in the future, as that’s just the nature of the beast. Just ask oft-maligned former hitting coach Derek Shelton (who was a favorite whipping boy, particularly at the beginning of the 2008 season), who took all of 16 days to find another MLB hitting coach gig for a team that figures to be better than the Indians for the foreseeable future.

Staying on the topic of the coaching staff, seeing as how it was reported on Tuesday that “Indians manager Manny Acta would like to name a pitching coach and infield coach first” and with Tim Belcher now in the fold, isn’t it pretty obvious that those were two of the positions that were going to be filled internally? Let me know when it’s time to say, “Torey Lovullo…come on down” to manage the infielders and take on some role as a base coach, then turn our attention to other names that we know little about and whose resumes are sure to be pored over unnecessarily to fill the positions of bench coach, hitting coach, outfield coach, bullpen coach, and catchers’ coach.

Regarding those last two roles, there was a little blurb reporting that the Indians have an interest Sandy Alomar, Jr., possibly for one of those aforementioned positions. Of course, there is the whole matter of Alomar being a member of the Mets’ coaching staff perhaps standing in the way:
Alomar has been added to the Mets' big-league staff after serving two years as their bullpen catcher and catching instructor, but his job hasn't been finalized because of other changes on the staff. One of those changes included the firing of Alomar's father, Sandy Sr.
Going from one similar coaching job to another is seen as a lateral move, which may prompt the Mets to keep him.

Generally, coaches do not make lateral moves so it remains to be seen what comes of this, but let’s all remember that adding Sandy Alomar, Jr. to the coaching staff does not bring back the days of 1995’s “Wahoo, What a Finish” or of 1997’s “A Sock-Cess Story”. I can’t imagine that people would legitimately go to games or have different feelings about the 2010 Indians based on whether Alomar was the bullpen coach…but I’ve been wrong before.

In essence, adding a guy like Sandy (or seeing if Charles Nagy is interested in filling the Special Assistant to Baseball Operations post recently vacated by Belcher) is fine with me as long as the main reason that he’s getting the gig has nothing to do with the fact that he was the player for the team in the 1990s. If the wisdom that Alomar brings to the role sets him apart from the other available prospective coaches…terrific, bring him in. If the fact that he hit a HR in the 1997 All-Star Game plays a role in the decision, color me uninterested.

Changing gears, in case you were thinking that Jhonny Peralta could be trade bait for an arm this off-season, I direct you to the trade of JJ Hardy for Carlos Gomez that was consummated this week. While I like the deal for the Twins in that it upgrades their offense significantly with a player under their control through the end of 2011, it sheds some light on what the market for Peralta might look like…and it’s not too pretty.

Take a quick look at how Evan Bruell summed up the trade for The Hardball Times:
At first, I was incredulous over this deal, believing Hardy should have been shopped for a pitcher. While I still feel the Twins come ahead in the deal, I've come to realize that shipping Hardy out for a bat is actually rather logical. It's far easier to get a position player in a deal than a pitcher, especially ones of like talent. Even if Gomez is the equivalent of a 5.00 ERA pitcher, the latter comes with a higher price tag.

Admittedly, the sentence of interest was bolded by me, but is anyone else interested in using this logic to justify NOT getting an arm in a deal that would involve Peralta, particularly considering their current needs?

That of course, is pitching…the key to 2010 and beyond. While the man in charge of making sure that the pitching on hand (and perhaps to come) has been identified, whether or not he succeeds in his task isn’t an answer that’s going to crystallize quickly, or even be agreed upon.

So, while Tim Belcher pores over tape to rectify Fausto’s mechanics, I’m going to enjoy a beautiful NFL-free day in the best location in the nation on a November day that just doesn’t happen in Cleveland.